Saturday, January 17, 2009

Human Powered Helicopters

Back in 1989, in Smithsonian magazine, there was an article on Human Powered Helicopters. More specifically, a challenge laid down for someone to do it.
In the past twenty years only two teams of uber-brainiacs have managed to build HPH's that work...sort of. One is called the Da Vinci III and it's best flight was an 8 inch flight that lasted 7.1 seconds.
The other is called the Yuri I. It managed 0.2 meters (which is 7.8 inches) and lasted a whopping 19.46 seconds.

Both of these, as you can see, are enormous. The rotors spin from 15 - 25 rotations per minute. The pilot/engines are very light and nearly always Olympian bicyclers. There are many other projects out there (check out for more info.)
After reading the article in 1989, I ruminated on it for all of an hour or so before an answer to the problem seemed to present itself. I'm going to play my cards close to my vest here, lest anyone steal my idea. Hee hee. But there was always a singular flaw in my design having to do with counter rotation and durability of parts.
Anyway, as I dreamed the other night, I found myself in a pasture with nothing else around but a few trees, a couple of clouds, and my finished HPH, which I named 'The Grasshopper' all those years ago. I stared at it, knowing that in the current configuration it might fly, but would be really hard to control. As I stared at it, a real grasshopper hopped on the rotor blade, shook it's legs, and hopped off. I watched it leap off into the tall grass, and was suddenly hit with inspiration! A grasshopper doesn't leap well with one leg. Why would I think The Grasshopper would fly with one rotor? In my dream, I reconfigured it into two separate designs, pretty radically different than the original. I climbed into one and started pedaling. Pretty soon it was all spooled up and I lifted it of into the clear sky. It worked like a charm!
I was so excited that I actually awoke from my dream and could not get back to sleep. So I sketched out a few rough plans, did a little math, that sort of thing, just to test the dream version. Turns out it might work better than the original plan!
If I only had the money to build a proof of concept flyer. It would be very interesting to see if it actually worked! Maybe someday... I suppose if I ever do build it, and it does fly, I won't be able to keep it under wraps. It would be cool to have the prototype hanging in the Smithsonian, next to the Gossamer Albatross (that would be the first Human Powered Airplane that flew across the English Channel).
Oh, and if you're interested, the reward for the challenge is $20,000. The only requirements are to fly a HPH to a height of 10 feet (or 3 meters) at least for a moment, to keep the craft airborne for a full minute, and to stay within a certain area. My requirements for a HPH is to be able to fly to any height I want, for as long as I can pedal, and to travel about wherever I want. Maybe I'll enter it in RAGBRAI some year. :)
Ah, the life of a dreamer.
More Later

1 comment:

Sharon said...

I really do wish you could win the lottery... so you could pursue some of your great dreams. Until that day, I hope you are documenting all of your ideas...maybe "Book for Dreamers"... or at least a song??!!